School lunch program provides healthy meals for children
Monday, August 1, 2022
Children across Oklahoma are preparing to head back to the classroom. Not only are students picking out new notebooks and perhaps getting a new outfit, parents need to be prepared to fill out various forms at school, including applications for free and reduced lunch programs.
All children are able to participate in the school nutrition programs, but children from low-income households are able to receive meals at a free or reduced price depending on household income, said Deana Hildebrand, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition specialist.
“During the pandemic, schools provided free meals to all students, so parents with younger children may not be aware there are forms that must be filled out in order to participate in the free and reduced-price meal program this year,” Hildebrand said.
There are many children across the state who will arrive at school hungry due to food insecurity, which increased during the pandemic. Participating in school meal/nutrition programs is one way to ensure children have adequate nutrition and food security during the day.
“School meals impact thousands of children every day. In Oklahoma, about 367,000 students eat school lunches on a daily basis,” she said. “This statistic alone makes it very clear that schools are an important source of nutritious food for children all across the state.
Hildebrand encourages those who believe they may qualify for the program to contact their local school district for an application. The USDA website also offers additional information about how to apply.
“Hunger and malnutrition negatively impact a student’s capacity to learn,” she said. “Hungry children have lower immunity, have more absences and lower school performance. It’s no secret that healthier kids learn better and are more likely to graduate from high school and college.”
Most schools offer both breakfast and lunch meals, and some also offer after-school snack programs. Hildebrand said research indicates the more meals students eat at school the better their dietary quality.
“Check with the school to see if they offer a weekend snack/meal program. Some schools provide backpacks with easy-to-make foods for meals during the weekend,” she said.